Summer is here, and more people are cooking outside to take advantage of the sunshine and the warm temperatures. But the hot, humid weather, coupled with more difficult access to refrigeration or washing facilities, creates the perfect conditions for the rapid growth of bacteria on food.
Every year in Canada, roughly one in eight Canadians (or four million people) get sick with food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness. Many cases of foodborne illness can be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques. While most people recover completely from foodborne illness, certain groups have a higher risk for serious health effects. These groups include pregnant women, children ages 5 and under, adults 60 years old and over, and people with weakened immune systems.
Learn about the symptoms of foodborne illness. The most common symptoms include: stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. See a health care professional as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.
Follow these four steps when handing and preparing food: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Step One – Clean:
Wash hands and surfaces often to avoid the spread of bacteria.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap, rinsing for at least 20 seconds, before handling food, and after handling raw meat or poultry, using the bathroom, touching pets or changing diapers. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful when soap and water are not available. In most cases antibacterial soap is not necessary for safe, effective hand hygiene.
Always wash raw fruits and vegetables with clean water. You cannot tell whether foods carry surface bacteria by the way they look, smell or taste.
Step Two – Separate:
Keep raw meats, such as ground beef or pork, poultry, fish and seafood separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
When you pack a cooler for an outing, wrap uncooked meat, poultry, fish and seafood securely and put them on the bottom to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other foods. Ideally, use a separate cooler for the raw foods.
Wash all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched or held raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood before using them again for other foods. Wash hands after handling raw meat and wash the food thermometer (preferably a digital one) after each temperature reading.
Step Three – Cook:
Make sure you kill harmful bacteria by properly cooking food.
Checking the colour is not a guarantee that food is properly cooked and safe to eat. Don’t guess! Use a digital food thermometer to check when meat, poultry, fish and seafood are safe to eat. Cooked foods are safe to eat when internal temperatures are:
Beef, veal and lamb (pieces and whole cuts)
63° C (145° F) for medium rare
71° C (160° F) for medium
77° C (170° F) for well done
70° C (158° F) for fish
71° C (160° F) for ground beef, veal, lamb and pork
71°C (160° F) for pork (pieces and whole cuts)
74° C (165° F) for shellfish, leftover food, and boned and deboned poultry parts
85° C (185° F) for whole poultry
Step Four – Chill:
Keep cold food cold. Perishable foods that are normally in the refrigerator, such as luncheon meats, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads made with mayonnaise must be kept in an insulated cooler with freezer packs or blocks of ice to keep the temperature at 4° C (40° F).
Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and avoid opening it too often.
Use separate coolers for food and drinks to keep the perishable food colder for longer because the cooler won’t be opened as often.
Put leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you are finished eating.
On hot summer days, don’t keep food unrefrigerated for more than one hour.
The simple rule is: When in doubt, throw it out!